Monday, November 28, 2011

Old Stage Drivers Remembered

DeRuyter Weekly Gleaner
May 10, 1894

(Unidentified newspaper clipping)

      Buckingham Tells Thrillers
     Norwich Man Drove Stages
    NORWICH - The early history of Chenango and other counties carries with it the air of adventure and romance. Men in those days rubbed elbows with the savage Indian, the unscrupulous highway-man and the quack doctor. In the forest he fought the wild beast, and with the elements he fought for shelter and warmth.
    There are few more romantic and adventurous stories than that of Joel Buckingham, the South Otselic stage driver who fought his way over the wild and dangerous roads for 30 years, and then when past 50 became the owner of a string of creameries, wresting considerable wealth from the community in which he was born.
    Joel Buckingham was a farm boy, working hard in the summer and attending a log school in the winter. As Joel worked in the field he looked each day for the coming of Lewis Merrill, the aging stage driver who drove the jostling stage from Truxton to McLean. Elderly Mr. Merrill liked the farm boy and each day would stop for a visit and a drink of water.
    Each day as young Joel listened to the tales told by the veteran driver he longed more and more to see the great outside world. He imagined himself shooting the big black bears that came out of the woods to scare the team. He thought of himself walking through the stores at each terminal of the line. To a boy who had never been away from the farm, the picture was one of fascination and charm.
    One day Mr. Merrill offered him a job. He was to take a stage on the main line from Utica to Ithaca. Joel jumped at the chance. Here was a chance to see the world and perhaps obtain a job with sufficient cash to enable him to marry pretty Sally Card, a neighbor. Joel had been courting Sally, who was a mere slip of a girl with pigtails, for several months and already they had become serious. The only trouble was Joel didn't have any money.
    Joel Buckingham took the stage job. An expert with a team, he soon learned the road and started carrying passengers over the wild and rough terrain, his trusty gun at his side. He had many adventures and very soon learned that old Lewis Merrill had told him the truth. He fought off robbers and fought off the troublesome black bears. He watched continually for trouble with the Indians, but these denizens of the forest soon learned to like the boy who drove the stage, and often carried them without charge. 
     By the end of the fifth year Joel had grown into a hardened stage driver. He had even been a mainline driver and had covered part of the route from Albany to Syracuse. Only two serious accidents had marred his career. Once his team had become frightened as Joel was filling the water jug at a spring, and had run away, slightly injuring a passenger. A second accident occurred when his stage was upset because of a landslide, but injured no one.
    During the five years he had just passed,  Joel Buckingham planned his wedding. On each trip the vivacious Sally would meet him at the general store in Otselic, and it seemed to him that each time he stopped she was more beautiful than before. Finally, during the Christmas holidays of 1840, Joel blushingly popped the question and slipped a pretty ring on Sally's finger, a ring he had purchased in far-off Syracuse.
    The following July Joel and Sally were married in the little Otselic church. Joel then decided to settle down and accordingly bought a farm, which he ran faithfully for nine years, but ever and always he was thinking of the stage route, the free and sweet air of the woodlands and of the dusty roads Finally he succumbed to the call of the stage and  engaged himself to run part of the line from Utica to Pitcher, leaving the pretty Sally to manage the farm.
    Joel continued his stage job for four years, and each year he felt worse about leaving Sally and the two children alone. When the third child came Joel again fought with himself. He knew he must make a decision between his love for the stage route or his duty toward his Sally. It took another year, but at the end of 1854 he had made his decision. He would forever give up the adventure of the stage route and settled down with his family.
    Although Joel Buckingham stuck to his word, he was never cut out to be a farmer. For another ten years he worked and accumulated some money. Then, at the age of 50, he made another decision. He would give up farming altogether and go into business.
    A century ago men were old at 50, but even at that "advanced" age Joel Buckingham  built his first creamery in Otselic, and continued it for several years. Then seeing larger opportunity at DeRuyter he built a creamery there also. These factories made cheese of the highest quality and Joel Buckingham began to see success in his new venture. His business was always large, but in the busy season his Otselic factory received as high as 21,000 pounds of milk a day.
    When Joel Buckingham grew old and trotted his grandchildren on his knee, it was not of the the creameries and cheese factories that he told them. Indeed, today it is thought doubtful that Joel Buckingham's love was for the business, or even for his farm. At heart he was a stage driver and always in his memory were the open road, the wooded and dark passaged through the forests, the wild beasts and the savage that roamed the forest.
    It was of these that he told the children as they crowded to his knee - these and the days when he and Sally were young, days upon which circumstances had caused him to turn the page.

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